As Iraqi Kurdistan embarks on development, Jordan has ‘important role to play’

(Photo: Handouts from Falah Mustafa)
(Photo: Handouts from Falah Mustafa)
AMMAN — Pharmaceuticals, banking, services and tourism are among sectors that Jordan could help the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI) develop and better, according to one of KRI President Nechirvan Barzani's senior aides.اضافة اعلان

Falah Mustafa, a former foreign minister and incumbent president’s advisor on foreign affairs, spoke to Jordan News about the relationship between the Kingdom and KRI, and the tripartite cooperation between Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

The interview came in the aftermath of a visit President Barzani made to Jordan last week, when he met with His Majesty King Abdullah to discuss bilateral relations, cooperation across different sectors and combating terrorism.

Days later, the King was in Baghdad for a summit with the leaders of Egypt an Iraq, which ended with a joint statement in which the three partners announced continued cooperation to execute mega projects and improve inter-trade figures in a way that would make a difference to the livelihoods of the people of the three economically challenged nations.

KRI has booked a place in this alliance, according to Mustafa.

"We are going to help and contribute as much as we can, because we support this kind of approach in order to have good neighborly relations among countries, which can be sustained and can be commonly beneficial,” Mustafa said.

Potential cooperation
The region is embarking on a new economic development phase as reported by Kurdistan 24, a local media outlet.
According to the report, the region’s government is actively seeking to implement an “ambitious program of work, focused on diversifying revenues and moving away from reliance on oil, as well as creating an environment that attracts both local and foreign investments.”

Mustafa insinuated that KRI is prepared to benefit from Jordan’s expertise and skilled labor in various sectors.

“Certainly, we admire the investment of Jordan in its own resources. Jordan has a lot of talented people — capable people in the service sector in Jordan, so this is one sector than both sides can cooperate in.” the official said.

Jordan’s advancement in technology seems to be of interest to the KRI as well. According to Invest In Group, 2G technology is still operating in the autonomous region. The publishing research, and consultancy group estimates that only 7-10 percent of households have internet access in the KRI, despite the fact that mobile penetration in the autonomous region stands at 90 percent.

Jordan on the other hand suspended 2G networks earlier this year and saw a 0.8-percent increase in internet penetration to reach 66.8 percent in 2020.

“Technology, and telecommunications is another area that we can cooperate and coordinate. In the pharmaceutical area, Jordan has been producing a lot of medicine and medical supplies, which are world-class quality, in terms of manufacturing. Also, to see how we can integrate; For example, how can we do something to ensure food security?” he added.  

The senior aide alluded to potential cooperation in the tourism sector as well. He spoke of a “tourism basket,” which is a tourism arrangement that includes Jordan, Iraq, and KRI.

Under the envisioned arrangement, tours would be set up where visitors to Jordan go on to visit Kurdistan region in Iraq, where they can either conclude their trip or go on to visit Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, etc., Mustafa explained.

“We are determined to promote and develop three areas in the Kurdistan region: agriculture, industry, and tourism,” he added.
Despite previous tensions between the region and the central government, Mustafa realizes that furthering cooperation between Jordan and the KRI will help Iraq as a whole. According to Mustafa, the Iraqi market is considered to be a “big market,” counting a population of some 40 million, however, he pointed to imminent challenges and potential political upheaval.

“Maybe there are some political challenges, (but) we are approaching the October 10 elections, and upcoming early elections in Iraq … this would be an opportunity for us to overcome some of the challenges, have an inclusive, representative government that works for all of Iraq, for the sake of the Iraqi people,” the official noted.

“Any business would not only be for the region but for all of Iraq, so that’s why we invest in agriculture, industry, tourism, medical supplies, medicine, and the food industry.”

According to him, another challenge where Jordan can be of help is the banking sector, where “Jordan can play an important role in helping the banking sector in Iraq to act like a real professional baking sector, and provide support to investors.

Because when investors come to invest in a country, the first thing they want to see is if this country has a proper banking system … or a judiciary system that people can trust.”

“The Iraqi side can do and should do its homework in order to prepare the ground to have a kind of conducive environment for investment and then to encourage friendly counties or neighbors to come and invest,” he added.  

During the discussions held by the ministerial committee that accompanies Barzani on his trip to Jordan, “we realized ways to enhance our cooperation. For example, what do we need here that Jordan has a surplus of? And what does Jordan need that Iraq and Kurdistan have a surplus of? That’s why there is room for economic integration but, needless to say the wealth is becoming smaller, the pandemic had its own impact on the economy, social aspects, on the medical situation and also political relations,” Mustafa said.

The senior counselor sees that the trilateral cooperation between Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt will bring prosperity and stability to the three countries, as well as the Kurdistan region.

Mustafa stressed that security and stability are a prerequisite to economic and social development and cooperation.
“Security and the threat of terrorism are not over yet and they remains a common challenge and a shared responsibility,” he added.

Counter terrorism
The KRI witnesses and participants in major battles against Daesh, and despite the receding power of the group, Kurdish seniors are warning against “a comeback.”

Reuters quoted Lahur Talabany, co-president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party and a former intelligence chief, in May as saying: “It seems like (Daesh) have re-organized.”

Mustafa told Jordan News that “today, when we talk about security, this is a shared responsibility, because no one is immune, and if you have a neighbor that is insecure, that will definitely impact you,” he added.

Mustafa considered intelligence cooperation and information sharing to be “very important” in the battle against terrorism.
“Intelligence cooperation is very important to fight terrorist organizations, this is one. Secondly, those people that have been displaced,” he said.

Jordan and KRI are both hosts of Syrian refugees. However, the senior aide stresses that the “dire and declining living conditions of refugees will make them a fertile terrorist recruitment environment.”

“… We as well have received around a quarter of a million Syrian refugees in Kurdistan region. Turkey has received Syrian refugees — Lebanon and Egypt too. Five neighboring countries of Syria have received large numbers of Syrian refugees.

What would be the future of these people? What can we do to help these people so that they can have a safe and secure future? Because when you have people in camps with no services, with no hope, with no future, this is a fertile (recruitment) environment for terrorist organizations. Therefore, the fight against Daesh is not over yet. Yes, they are not controlling territories like before or have a caliphate, but as an insurgency, they are still there,” he added.

Away from the operational and societal factors of terrorism, Mustafa underlined the importance of cutting the group’s financial resources.

“Draining their (Daesh) financial resources is an important step … and also countering their ideology, and, of course, I need to say and highlight the role that Jordan and His Majesty the King have played in the fight against Daesh from 2014 onward, when he wanted to show the rest of the world the moderate Islam, the normal Islam, that Islam is not terrorism. So therefore, this was a counter narrative that we needed to have …” he said.

To fight terror and ensure stability, “we need to have more cooperation, whether through intelligence or economic cooperation, because economic cooperation provides job opportunities, improves people’s lives and people’s conditions, generates funds for these people, (and hence) they will not be obliged to go join terrorist groups and organizations to be recruited for doing bad things. Therefore, it’s a kind of comprehensive approach: political, economic, social security, and intelligence,” he concluded.

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